Orr Barouch is a recognizable face in Netanya. He and his mates can walk around the town and are easily identified as heroes on the city streets. The locals love their soccer and especially the players who are part in parcel the fabric of the yellow and black “Diamonds Army”, Maccabi Netanya. Diamonds are closely associated with the city named in honor of Nathan Straus as it was at one time a major hub for the merchants and their gems. Straus co-owned the great department stores Macy’s and A&S in New York City where the supporters of their sports teams are some of the most loyal and passionate in the world just like in Netanya.
Netanya and Orr Barouch you could say have the same qualities as New York; “if I can make it there, I’m gonna make it anywhere” as the great Frank Sinatra song declares. “If you can succeed, you’ll be remembered forever,” Barouch tells me. But along with the terrific fans & fandom comes the pressure, and as in New York, Netanya has plenty of that to offer.
Born in Haifa to Chaim & Yaffa, Barrouch moved with the family to California at the age of four. “I didn’t have much of a problem blending into the West Coast as I started to play soccer by the age of six in The Valley area of Los Angeles.”
Barouch’s father always supported his son in his quest to become the best soccer player he could be and was very influential in his development. The 6”2 striker started to bloom as a 13-year old under Travis Kikugawa while at Real So Cal U15. Kikugawa plays a massive role to this day in Barouch’s life, “I’ve got to thank Travis for helping me with my work ethic. He was the first to really instill this most important value that has helped me ever since. On the pitch I try to emulate the best players in the world be it Ronaldo (Portugal & Real Madrid great), Robin van Persie (Manchester United striker) and Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers. Their drive and mental toughness is second to none and allows me to be focused game in and game out.”
Reaching out to Kikugawa, he shared some thoughts on Barouch’s maturation process, “When I first took over his team at U15, I knew he had all the physical tools to play at the next level, however, he couldn’t seem to get out of his own way when it came to whole mental aspect of the game, competition, and being a part of something bigger than himself. It took several years for him to come around in that area as it does most kids at that age, but once he committed himself to the process of it all, there was nothing that was going to deter him from achieving his lifelong dream of becoming a professional soccer player.
For Orr, it wasn’t a matter of if, it was really a matter of when. Having had the privilege of working alongside him throughout the summer months of his preseason in California, there was a singleness of purpose to everything he did when it came to his eating habits, training habits, recovery habits, and overall mental well-being. Orr has become obsessed with doing all the little things that it takes to make the big things happen and will only continue to develop given the right environment.”
It was at Real So Cal U15 where scouts began to take an interest in the youngster. Mexican power Chivas, who at the time also had a foothold in the greater Los Angeles area snapped him up on recommendation of their director Dennis Te Klose. From Chivas, Te Klose brought Barouch over to Monterrey, Mexico to play with the Tigres UANL youth team where he shared a room with 6 players! “Mexico was not easy. I had to learn the language and it was challenging. But that’s what makes me more of a complete player and person. People shouldn’t feel right without being uncomfortable. I want to be the best I can be every single day and this is what makes me strive to reach those heights.”
Joining the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer (MLS) on loan would be Barouch’s next stop. “There’s a big difference with the fans in the USA & in Israel. The Fire supporters were great, but wins and losses were not as dramatic as they are in Israel. Here it’s part of the culture, just as the people in Netanya know who you are when you walk the streets. My current situation is making me a better person and a better player. I continue to grow as an individual when I am contested.”
Barouch headed over to Israel and played for the Under 21 squad that participated in the UEFA Euro 2013 tournament in the Holy Land. The side was coached by current Charlton manager Guy Luzon and Barouch had only praise for his former mentor. “Luzon was unbelievable. He was one of the best coaches I ever had and he was a terrific person and communicator. He took his job so seriously and led us to victory over England at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem. I’m still in contact with him to this day. I made some amazing friends during my first taste of playing in Israel with the youth team. Nir Bitton who is now playing in Scotland with Celtic and Eli Dasa the Beitar Jerusalem back are good friends.”
Israeli club Bnei Yehuda was Barouch’s next stop and then onto Maccabi Netanya this season where the club has had many ups and downs replacing veteran coach Yossi Mizrachi midway through the season with Roni Levy. Not surprisingly more words of praise came Levy’s way. “Levy’s tempo and training are fantastic. He is a leader and demands discipline every day in preparation for the upcoming match.”
As Barouch continues up the ladder of success, failure, fear of failure and setbacks can obviously be a major challenge. “Of course I’m afraid that I will fail. That’s what drives me to be the best that I can be. You never know what tomorrow will bring you.” Barouch doesn’t know where he will eventually end up as I ask him what his goals are for the next few years. “Playing in England is the dream that I pursue, and with each stop I am becoming a more complete player to reach my dreams.
Israel has a great league, a technical one that offers more of a thinking game. There are chances to not only grow as a player but also as a person by being in a fabulous country with a rich culture and that places pressure on you to perform to the best of your abilities and then some.”
As Barouch develops, it’s clear that Netanya was the perfect place for him to continue his journey. Diamonds don’t start out polished and shiny, but with time they develop and begin to take shape. Diamonds then last forever. Orr Barouch is that diamond.